There is purpose behind each negative event that befalls an individual. The potential reason(s) depends upon one’s standing with God. Each person is either outside of Christ (unbeliever) or in Christ (believer). One’s actual standing (not which one an individual thinks he/she is in) determines which possibilities are viable.
1. The Reality of This Existence - The Initial Judgment of God
Adam’s fall in Genesis is accompanied by a group of judgments from God. The bottom line is that Adam’s physical body would now be overcome by the environment. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). If Adam’s physical body was already that way before the fall (as all Evolutionists and longevity model adherents believe), then such a “judgment” is nonsense. But, the burden of proof lies on the naysayer - and the honest ones know their system still is no more ... than a theory. One “gift” Adam passed to us all ... is a body that cannot survive this environment. Sooner or later, some negative “thing” will kill us (See Lk 13:1-5). That is the reality of this existence.
2. Direct Judgment on an Individual
This is always in response to some specific incident. “(F)ire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed” Nadab and Abihu - Aaron’s sons (Lev 10:1-20). Read of Korah’s rebellion (Nu 16), or Ananias’ and Sapphira’s fatal error (Ac 5: 1-11). And Herod, after delivering a seemingly great speech, failed to give God His proper due and “an angel of the Lord struck him ... and he was eaten by worms and he died” (Ac 12:23). The only reason we know these are direct judgments from the living Creator ... is because He told us. I am absolutely certain similar actions occur around us all the time - but aren’t written down. Jesus has “the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev 1:18). And ... He uses them. It is indeed “a terrifying thing to fall into the Hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
3. Judgment on a Group
While each person will only account for his/her own actions, many times an entire group is judged by God - and calamity comes sooner than it might have otherwise. The flood killed people of all ages (Gen 6-8). So also the fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and environs (Gen 18:7 through 19:29). Nations that forget Him ... He warns. “He makes the nations great, then destroys them ... He changes ... a fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it” (Job 12:23 and Ps 107:33,34). The moment is approaching when His name will be damned ... one time too many. The end of this age will be a worldwide group judgment (Mt 25:31-46 and Rev 20:11-15).
4. Reaping What Has Been Sown
There are multitudes of applications to this. If one ingests destructive materials, or otherwise violates natural law, negative things will come. If one violates legitimate civil law and is caught, negative things arrive. If one is naive and foolish, whether in finances, sexual activity, or governing activities (family, business, or political) - negative consequences are guaranteed. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). If you sow to the wind, do not be surprised if you “reap the whirlwind” (Hos 8:7). Reaping is not often ... a one-to-one ratio.
5. Afflictions Designed to Bring One to God
A man might be “chastened with pain on his bed, and with unceasing complaint in his bones ... his flesh wastes away ... and his bones, which were not seen, stick out .... God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life” (Job 33:19,21,29,30). Psalm 107 depicts several scenarios of this same type (Also see Ps 119:67,71). A classic example involves the Christian-killer, Saul. “... a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying ... ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” After some instructions, he got back up, “and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing” (Ac 9:3,4,8). This is the beginning of the Christian life ... of the Apostle Paul.
6. Miraculous Deliverance
This may be somewhat related to the previous point. A man, who had been born blind, was in such a condition “in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). God may allow, or even cause some negative thing (Ex 4:11), with the intention of miraculously delivering the afflicted one as a demonstration of His power, ability and mercy. Incredibly, these feats do not always end in the conversion of the one so delivered - or the onlookers (See Lk 17:11-19, Jn 5:2-16, and Mt 28:2-4 and 11-15). They can actually end ... in greater judgment.
For Unbelievers ...
... that’s about it. With the exception of Number 5 (and sometimes Number 6), unbelievers are subject to all kinds of mayhem - with no constructive purpose behind it. These are black events escorting one to an ultimate destination of “outer darkness” (Mt 22:13). For unbelievers, their “portion in life is of the world” (Ps 17:14). This is tragic.
The Christian is subject to all the above - with modifications. The most important is this promise: “God causes all things to work together toward good, to those who continue loving God” (Ro 8:28). The preposition, “eis” (toward) primarily means, “motion towards something.” God uses evil (be it natural or moral) to accomplish solid life gains for the one who continues to esteem and respect Him (“agapao”). “Let those who suffer according to the will of God continue entrusting their souls to a faithful Creator in doing good” (1Pet 4:19). Some believe the, “in doing good (‘en agathopoiia’)” refers to God. Others think it is calling the believer to continue doing good - while trusting God. It appears this can be legally translated either way. This may be deliberate ... as both understandings are indeed accurate. This Book continues to astound me.
“Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord ... He scourges each one He welcomes as a son .... All discipline, for the moment, seems ... sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:5,11). These disciplines are individualized actions from God. “He disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:10). He is responding to a believer’s sin - with the goal of driving it out - and then making the believer more Christlike.
8. Abuse of the Lord’s Supper
This is actually an extension of Number 7. If a believer partakes of the Lord’s Supper - and yet is casually partaking of some sin as well, this is presumption - making one “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1Cor 11:27). This is a sure-fired way to bring down the Hand of God. “When we are judged, we are disciplined that we might not be damned along with the world” (1Cor 11:32). In Corinth, many were made “weak, sick and a number sleep” - died (with the assumption they repented before their exit) on account of this. Do not assume ... God has gone soft.
9. Testing God
God protects believers, but that does not mean the Christian can be reckless and expect God to come to the rescue. Satan quoted protective Scripture and then dared Jesus to jump “from the pinnacle of the Temple” (Lk 4:9-11). Jesus rebuked him, “You shall not force a test on the Lord your God” (Lk 4:12). There is a line somewhere between stepping out in faith - and presumption ... thus testing God. Some individuals are quite daring and adventurous and should not be censured by the more reserved among us. This is ultimately a matter determined between the individual saint and God.
10. Conflict in the Heavens
Job’s troubles were brought on ... by a conflict in the heavens. Actually, the Lord challenged Satan ... with Job - and Satan took up the challenge. And disaster struck. Read Job 1 and 2 - and ask God to spare you from such an ordeal. I sure do. Satan also demanded permission (interesting phrase) to sift Peter “like wheat.” It appears that was granted (Lk 22:31-34).
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Ja 1:3). It does not appear these episodes are brought on by overt sins (attracting God’s discipline). “The Lord tests hearts” (Pr17:3). These tests are hard things - and often bring up dark stuff ... exposing deep attitudinal and/or character flaws (See Ro 5:3-5). When successfully navigated, the believer is more sound in the faith. Moral defects are acknowledged (1Jn 1:9), renounced (Tit 2:12) and then, by His grace, put to death (Ro 8:13).
12. To Keep One From Sin
“And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me ...” (2Cor 12:7). Does it even matter what the problem was? Satan meant ill - but he actually kept Paul useful to God. This is an amazing use of evil. Your seemingly debilitating situation ... may actuality be equipping you - for eternal labor. You know, our God ... is real big.
13. Suffering for Christ
“For to you it has been granted ... not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29). Paul did his share “in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). God came into His own domain and was rejected (Jn 1:10,11). Believers are going to experience rejection - as the world is still rejecting God. No Christian should go looking for this. It will come on its own. (Also see Mt 5:10-12, Phil 3:10, 2Tim 1:8, 2Tim 2:3,9 2Tim 3:12, 1Pet 4:12-19, Rev 13:7, etc.).
While there is often just one reason behind some “event” - that is not always the case. Job’s situation started with a conflict in the heavens, but it was also a test designed to bring out a deep self righteousness in Job - from which he repented.
When struck ... should one refrain from asking, “Why?” As a believer, I know God can prevent any particular negative event. Indeed, that is my fate in the coming, eternal age. So, when He decides to let the hedges drop (Job 1:10) - I know there is a reason - or reasons - behind that. So, ... I ask why.I seek why. I am certain that many times I will benefit by knowing why ... even if not thrilled with the answer(s). Paul entreated the Lord three times about his “thorn in the flesh” before getting an answer (2Cor 12:7-10). Maybe a good starting place is to review the 13 possibilities above, lay each one on the situation and see which ones can be immediately dismissed - and which are possibilities. The other option ... is to stay in the dark.
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Robin has a BA, Bus. Admin (Milligan College '90) and Master of Divinity (Emmanuel School of Religion '92).
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